Beat the Press

Dean Baker's commentary on economic reporting


The Washington Post Argues for More High-Skilled Immigrants

Okay, I tricked you. The Washington Post ran an article reporting that the wages of high-skilled workers in the Washington area are rising far more rapidly than the wages of less-skilled workers. It attributes this fact primarily to technology that has reduced the demand for less-skilled workers.

Those who believe in market forces would see rising wages as evidence of a labor shortage. In other contexts (e.g. nurses, construction workers, custodians etc.) the Post has reported that the country needs immigrants to deal with such labor shortages. Surprisingly, this article did not include any discussion of the need for more high skilled immigrants.

In fairness, the article did conclude with a brief discussion of immigration and its impact on wages. It does not attempt to reconcile the claim that wages for less-skilled workers are being driven down by technology with the claim that the country is sufficiently short of such less-skilled workers, that it desperately needs immigrants.

Let me head off one attempt at reconciling these claims. Some of the jobs frequently done by immigrants at present (e.g. construction work and manufacturing jobs in food processing) used to be relatively well-paying jobs. So it is not true that immigrants simply took the lowest paying jobs that no one else would do.


  • At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Dale said…

    What's up with the general trend of seeing rising wages as pathology? As a symtom to be treated?

  • At 2:01 PM, Anonymous save_the_rustbelt said…

    "...So it is not true that immigrants simply took the lowest paying jobs that no one else would do...."

    Absolutely right, especially in construction.

  • At 2:15 PM, Blogger Dean Baker said…


    I was being somewhat sarcastic -- I am a big fan of rising wages, that is how most people get rising living standards. I was trying to point out the irony, that we have economists telling us that we have a shortage of less-skilled workers, and therefore need more immigrants to fill less-skilled jobs, but wages are rising far more rapidly at the high-end.

    I don't have a problem with wages rising at the high-end in general, but I would like to see them rising at least as fast for those at the middle and bottom.

  • At 3:03 PM, Blogger Tom DC/VA said…

    How come the choices are always a) more skilled immigrants or b) privation? Training the people who already live here is never discussed.

  • At 12:17 AM, Blogger Luke said…

    When I was a first year apprentice carpenter in San Francisco in 1968 my starting wage was $4.65 an hour plus Blue Cross insurance. Journeyman made almost $8/hr. Corrected for inflation that works out to around $25/hr for me and $45 for the guys who knew what they were doing. Not bad for 40 years ago -- though, of course, the American economy has come a long way since then. In the Chattanooga area, where I live now, starting wages for a carpenter's "helper" (they don't have apprentices anymore) is around $10/hr with no health benefits.

    I might also mention that for the past twenty-five years I have worked with my wife as a Mom-and-Pop landscape contracting firm with 3 or 4 employees and a pickup truck. We do/did gardens for rich people. During that period hourly wages for laborers -- the guys who dig and plant -- has declined significantly in real terms while our income and standard of living as employers has doubled and then doubled again.

    We are headed back where we were before the "century of the common man." Can democracy survive in the form that Jefferson and Lincoln conceived it? Not if these trends continue.

    Let's draft Lou Dobbs for President now that the Democratic Party has deserted the working man and the working woman. He's the only voice out there.


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